Washington, America’s power center, recently experienced life without power—the kind that gets generated, not the kind that gets wielded. After a nasty storm knocked out the Beltway’s electricity for days during a heat wave, power brokers of the political type complained: Didn’t President Obama promise a smarter, more reliable grid?
Yes, he did. And the blackout notwithstanding, the grid is slowly improving. In fact, its story is a nice parable about change in the Obama era. On the trail in 2008, Obama had big dreams for a digital smart grid that would self-monitor and self-heal, minimizing costly outages by diagnosing problems electronically and rerouting power around them. He envisioned a national network of high-voltage transmission lines that would connect windy and sunny areas to cities, as well as smart meters and other high-tech gizmos that would give us real-time feedback and control over our energy use. He basically wanted to merge the grid with the Internet so we could adjust our air conditioners with our iPhones when we were out of the house, program our appliances to save us energy and money and sell power from solar panels and electric cars back to our utilities.
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